I'm analyzing Book 4, lines 129-139 for my final in Virgil's Aeneid:

Oceanum interea surgens Aurora reliquit.
It portis iubare exorto delecta iuventus;
retia rara, plagae, lato venabula ferro,
Massylique ruunt equites et odora canum vis.
Reginam thalamo cunctantem ad limina primi
Poenorum exspectant, ostroque insignis et auro
stat sonipes, ac frena ferox spumantia mandit.
Tandem progreditur, magna stipante caterva,
Sidoniam picto chlamydem circumdata limbo.
Cui pharetra ex auro, crines nodantur in aurum,
aurea purpuream subnectit fibula vestem.

I was reading a commentary to gain some insight into what I should write, and all it does is mention an ablative absolute's existence -- "iubare exhorto" -- without explaining the effect of the literary device. Does the ablative absolute add a feeling of interjected excitement, rather than a droning dependent clause? Does it have some other effect on the flow of the passage?

  • 3
    I wouldn't call an ablative absolute a literary device -- it's just part of the grammar of the language, like other types of subordinate clause.
    – TKR
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 20:19
  • But wouldn't it have a different feel within a line of verse than a relative clause, for example? I want to know what that difference in feeling would be.
    – Nickimite
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 21:39
  • I'm not sure if a blanket statement would apply to the literary effect of all ablative absolutes: it's such a versatile and common device. In the Aeneid case you mention, my sense is that the "interjected excitement" has a lot more to do with the fact that the ablative absolute is placed between the predicate and the subject than the fact that it's an ablative absolute.
    – brianpck
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 21:46
  • 1
    Would you mind turning that comment into an answer? @brianpck
    – Nickimite
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 21:57
  • It might help to link to the full line or paste it in for context. I'm not personally at a level to read it well, but it could help others.
    – Adam
    Commented May 15, 2020 at 1:26

1 Answer 1


As the beginning of an answer: I doubt that anything can be said about the general literary effect of an ablative absolute, prescinding from other contextual considerations. The ablative absolute is extremely versatile and common.

The ablative absolute is syntactically separate from the rest of the sentence and often is more concise than an equivalent phrase in a dependent clause. This allows it to be interjected at unexpected places for a literary effect. What that effect is, though, varies with context.

In your example from the Aeneid, iubare exorto interrupts the flow of the sentence because it is placed between the predicate (it portis) and the subject (delecta iuventus): this contributes to the sense of "preparatory buzz" for the early-morning hunt.

Vergil is a master of his craft, and it's impossible to reduce literary effect to rules. ("Ah, now when I write my rival Aeneid, all I need to do is add ablative absolutes to convey a sense of urgency!") Word choice--such as the unusual iubar, -is--contributes to an overall effect that can't be reduced simply to grammatical constructions.

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